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A Taste of the Family Whiskey

Celebrating a piece of my Irish heritage this St. Patrick's Day

Since childhood, I was always fascinated with the ornate whiskey crock that sits in the center of my parents' china cabinet.

It was a gift for their wedding, my mother would later explain, from a cousin who worked in a liquor store. The white ceramic, kettle-shaped crock bore the name Dunphy's.

While it's not an entirely uncommon last name, Dunphy isn't one that is heard very often and as such, we Dunphys attached ourselves with pride to mentions of it in popular culture. 

When ABC's "Modern Family" became a breakout hit, I assured fans of the show that it was due in no small part to one of the main characters being a Dunphy. When the Alec Baldwin film "Outside Providence" featured a protagonist named Tim Dunphy, I often joked that he was based on me. I was fortunate to escape an unflattering nickname given to the main character by his father.

My grandmother had always claimed up and down that the Dunphy on the whiskey bottle was the same Dunphy as us and the attachment of our name to a consumer product was a source of pride for her. She had Dunphy's Irish Whiskey by the case and often gave it as gifts.

It's possible that Michael Xavier Dunphy, the Irishman who came to the United States in the 1850s and started what would become my family, was of relation to the distillery in some way. But the truth was that as of the 1960s, Dunphy's was simply a brand name owned by the Midleton Distillery, makers of the world's most popular Irish whiskey— Jameson.

Dunphy's was created for the American consumer with the idea of marketing a bargain-priced blend to be mixed into Irish coffee and other drinks. In the late 1980s, Midleton pulled the plug on Dunphy's to focus on their other brands including Jameson, Powers and Tullamore Dew.

When my grandmother passed away and we took to the task of clearing out her Long Branch home, I was thrilled to discover a stockpile of Dunphy's in the liquor cabinet. Its negligible history aside, there was still the possibility that my family was related to these bottles. If not, it was still a great piece of Irish-Americana. Here was a bottle of authentic, albeit cheap, Irish whiskey with my name on it.

Dunphy's is no longer available in the United States and according to a number of online forums frequented by whiskey aficionados, it is in very limited supply in Ireland. The experts advised those looking for it to check the bottom shelf. When I packed up the bottles, it was decided that they would be drank sparingly.

Eventually curiosity got the best of me and one night I decided to open one of the bottles and have a taste. After all, this was the same stuff I had been staring at in my parents' china cabinet all these many years and what's more, I was old enough to drink and hopefully appreciate it. 

I held the bottle in my hand and turned the cap. The crack it made assured me that the bottle had never been opened before. Less of a chance of the whiskey being exposed to air and spoiling, I thought to myself.

I poured a short glass and raised it to my nose for inspection. The anticipation I felt leading up to this moment began to fade as my nose crunched and my expression soured.

If I could accurately describe the smell, it would be a combination of rubbing alcohol and turpentine with perhaps a hint of mothball. Still, I put the glass to my lips and sipped, finding out unsurprisingly that it tasted no better than it smelled.

Before I let disappointment set in, I set down my glass and shrugged. So it's not the best tasting whiskey in the world, I thought. The family whiskey should be treated no differently than family itself, I told myself. Sure, sometimes it leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth, but remember— it's the only one you've got and it deserves your love unconditionally.

Although next time I'm in the mood for a glass of whiskey, I think I'll go for the Tullamore Dew.

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